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FLASHBACK: The nostalgia of drive-in theaters - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: The nostalgia of drive-in theaters

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Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 8:00 am

Do you remember drive-in theaters?

Well, there used to be a few around Odessa. For those of you who may not know what they are, since these days you can carry around your smartphone or tablet and watch movies all the time, drive-ins were iconic, outdoor theaters complete with a big screen and plenty of parking spaces.

Folks have always had a love affair with cars and movies, so it just follows that drive-ins became wildly popular. The first drive-in theater was invented in New Jersey by a guy named Richard Hollingshead. For the screen, he hung a sheet in some trees. Then he rigged up a projector, hid a radio for sound behind the sheet/screen and tested his idea. But he noticed he had one problem that the cars in the front blocked the view of the cars in the rear. So he solved that by spacing the cars, and adding ramps so the car would tilt up a bit in front providing for the best viewing.

 By 1932, he submitted his patent to the U.S. Patent Office and, voila, a drive-in theater was born.

It was apparently slow-going at first, even so, more and more drive-ins popped up throughout the country. But during World War II, drive-in construction slowed down a bit due to a lack of materials. But after the war with the Baby Boom underway, a drive-in boom ensued. It was the perfect mode of entertainment for families with babies — they could bring the baby along and enjoy a movie. In just two years, from 1946 to 1948, the number of drive-ins went from 200 to 800.

Then came the 1950s, when TV became king. But even though regular movie theaters were closing by the thousands, drive-ins remained popular. From 1948 to 1958, drive-ins went from 1,000 to 5,000, with no signs of slowing down, especially after most drive-ins added playgrounds and food.

My folks loved to go to the drive-in when we were kids, because my folks were admitted movie-lovers. On movie night, we would get our baths and into our pajamas and hop into the backseat with pillows and blankets. Mom would bring the snacks, drinks, sandwiches and cookies. But we could always get the movie popcorn — that was a treat.

The Twin Terrace Drive In, located on Andrews Highway, near the Coliseum, was the place I remember. The movies shown there were not necessarily old, but they had already made the rounds in the brick and mortar theaters, so the tickets were cheap.

My dad used to fuss with the speaker. It seemed like we would always pull up in the lot that had the radio speaker that was on the fritz or shorting out. Eventually, he would get it just in the right position, hanging off the window inside the car. And we’d be all set.

A few years later — in the 1970s — drive-ins were not as popular because movies were getting more high tech. But the Twin Terrace remained — for quite a long time. It was cheap entertainment for teenagers, too. I remember the price as about $2 a carload. Sometimes the guy or gal at the gate didn’t realize what carload meant. My first car was a Pontiac Catalina, AKA a land yacht, and we could get about eight teenagers in the car, and three or four in the trunk. Those were the days.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one with a drive-in trunk tale. One poster remembered sneaking her brother in the trunk of a Toyota Corolla. I bet that was a tight squeeze.

Darrell McElyea said he remembered the Twin Cactus located on East Eighth, Y’s on East Second and The Plains, located south of West County Road, as part of a conversation on Remember in Odessa When, recently. Others remembered The Holiday Drive-In and the Broncho Drive-In. Today, there is the Big Sky Theatre, located off of Highway 80 in Midland.

No matter what, drive-ins were and are fun. Ernie Farris remembered seeing a lot of good movies at the drive-in and he couldn’t have said it better:

“Aww the days and nights of summer growing up in Odessa.”

I second that.

Odessa, TX

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